The 5 Whys are a quick way to find out the root cause of what is going wrong in your process.
The method is quite simple: it is an iterative (repetitive) process where to each answer, you simply ask the next why.
- Find the issue
- Ask why it is happening
- Ask why that cause is occurring
- Ask why the cause of that cause is occurring
- Ask why the cause of that cause of a cause is occurring
- Ask why the cause of that cause of a cause of a cause is occurring
By the time you’ve reached your 5th ‘why’ question, you should have reached the root cause of the problem. Obviously it won’t always take 5 ‘whys’ – sometimes the 1st will manage it, and some will take 6 or beyond, but most should be resolved by the 5th why, and you should always try to go at least that far, so that you can make sure you’re treating the cause, and not a symptom which looks like a cause.
Issue: customers are getting lots of credits (refunds) which is costing the company money
When they dispute payments we don’t have the documentation to fight it
Sales people don’t fill in documentation
They don’t see it as a priority or even something they should be doing
Their appraisals / goals are entirely around new contracts and sales, not documentation or conversion to cash, so they don’t see it as part of their job
It is not part of the sales department remit to look after cash generation, so they are structured around maximising sales
So here we are seeing a direct cost to the company due to a strategic decision about a department’s aims – you could even take this further and see how that came about, but after 5 why’s you’re into some root issues that are causing waste on the ground. If you stopped at e.g. why 2, you’d just assume that it was due to sales staff being lazy, and the issue would never be resolved.